Literature of Ayurveda – Brihatrayi – Charak Samhita

Literature of Ayurveda truly starts from the Vedic era.  It’s evolution thereafter, up to the final compilation in the form of Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, etc.

Despite the great changes that have refashioned Ayurveda since its inception, the best guides are still ancient texts known as ‘Samhita’.  Amongst several texts, only three authentic texts (Charak Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Vagbhata or Astanga Hridaya) have gained more recognition and respect for the past two thousand years.  These are known as Brihatrayi (Major / Great trio) and are in the Sanskrit language.

These doctrines in the great trio are vast treasures of knowledge of the Indian system of medicine. Although they differ in specific instructions, the basic principles remain same. Ayurveda texts are not the compendia of exhaustive details like modern medical texts; rather they are book of sutras or aphorisms that encapsulate the essence of the lore. These sutras are often expressed in a simple poetic way to make their memorization easier.

The Ayurveda Samhita are divided into different sections.  Each section is called as a sthana. These sections have chapters which are called as adhyaya, arranged in a format of a symposium covering various areas of the topic under consideration.  The  contents  of  each  chapter  are  summarized beautifully  at  the  end  of  the  chapter  and  in  turn  at  the  end  of  each  section. This helps to recapitulate the teachings and reaffirm the learning. Ayurveda texts are so spare that they are always studied with a commentary written by an expert that elucidates the meanings of its cryptic passages.

Charak Samhita

It  is  considered  to  be  the prime  work  on the  basic  concepts  of  Ayurveda.  It is a classical textbook of internal medicine i.e. kayachikitsa. It is the oldest of the Brihatrayi (Great trio) and was probably compiled around the 1st century B.C. This compendium is a commentary on the sutra of Maharshi Atreya which were collected, compiled and expertly opined by Agnivesha which initially was known as Agnivesha tantra. In the course of time, sage Charak revised the text by elaborating and simplifying various topics. Drudabala, an expert physician from Kashmir, was the final editor and presented the existing Charak Samhita in its complete form. The three stages in which Charaka Samhita was composed can be represented as follows.

Agnivesh tantra                       1000 BC

Charak’s addition                    2nd century BC

Drudabala                                  4th century AD


Charak Samhita is presented in eight sections i.e. sthana.  These eight sthanas contain total 120 chapters as outlined in the table below

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Sutra Sthana

Sutra is the presentation of a vast subject in lesser words, collected and arranged in a beautiful manner like a thread in a beautiful garland. Similarly, various basic principles and philosophical concepts are woven in this section.

As a custom in Vedic literature a subject is explained in a group of four chapters. Charak Samhita follows the same custom and contains various groups of four chapters known as Chatushka (Quadruples).

Thus sutra sthana contains seven Chatushka which are explained briefly as below:

  1. Bheshaja Chatushka is a group of four chapters on Ayurvedic medicines and their uses.
  2. Swasthya Chatushka discusses rules of food consumption, daily regimen, seasonal regimen, etc.
  3. Nirdesha Chatushka deals with patient, medicine, medical attendant and the doctor which  are  considered  as  four  important  factors of management  of  any  disorder (chikitsa chatushpada)
  4. Kalpana Chatushka explains oleation and fomentation which are the preliminary therapies of panchakarma.
  5. Roga Chatushka includes description regarding different classifications of the diseases. It mentions diseases of endogenous as well as exogenous origin.
  6. Yojana Chatushka gives details of various principles of disease management like langhana, brihan etc.
  7. Annapana Chatushka discusses various food categories and dietary advice. The detailed information regarding the action of food according to its taste, potency and a post-digestive effect is mentioned here.

Last two chapters are called as Sangraha adhyaya that describes the whole of Sutrasthana in nutshell.

 Nidana Sthana

This section deals with diagnosis (nidana) of the disease. Proper treatment of any disease is possible only by proper diagnosis of disease. Directions are given in this section regarding how to diagnose the different types of diseases at various levels of etiology so that early management can be initiated.

Vimana Sthana

Vimana (Specific measure)

This is a unique feature of Charak Samhita. Sushruta Samhita and Vagbhata or Astanga Hridaya do not contain this section in their doctrines. Here special knowledge and useful points are mentioned about medicinal substances, their properties, such as taste, potency, post digestive effects and activities (functions).

Sharir Sthana

Sharir = Related with body

As the name signifies, this section describes aspects related to Sharir i.e. body, for example, basic anatomy, embryology. Additionally, in Sharir sthana of Charak, metaphysical aspects and obstetrics are also described.

Indriya Sthana

This section deals with prognostic features of various disorders. These are considered as alarm bells in clinical medicine. Various specific signs and symptoms are mentioned which indicate bad prognosis.

Chikitsa Sthana

This is the section on therapeutics (chikitsa) which describes in details the diagnosis and treatment part which a vaidya (Ayurvedic Physician) should know and master before approaching any patient.  It  includes  30  chapters,  of which the first 2  chapters  deal  with rejuvenation  and  aphrodisiacs.

Kalpa Sthana

In this section, various formulations (kalpa) are described which are used for various purification procedures in panchakarma.

Siddhi Sthana

Detailed treatment of possible complications occurring during panchakarma therapies is described in this section. By mastering the contents of this section, vaidya’s success (siddhi) in his practice is ensured.


Salient features of Charak Samhita

  • Charak is the  first  classical  text  in  which  Ayurveda is  presented  as  triskandha Ayurveda hetu (causes), linga (signs and symptoms) and aushadha (management)
  • The concept of rasayana (Rejuvenation) is explained in a detailed and scientific manner. In the section of medical treatment, rasayana (Rejuvenation Treatment) is described as the first and foremost part of any treatment to improve the structural and functional integrity of all body tissues
  • Principle of five great elements i.e. pancha mahabhuta siddhanta and principles of pharmacology in terms of rasa, virya and vipaka, which can be correlated with taste, potency and post-digestive effect respectively, were introduced for the first time in Charak Samhita
  • The importance of prevention and health promotion aspect of medicine is explained in Charak Samhita
  • Also explained in Charak Samhita is the importance of acquiring clinical and practical skills in addition to the theoretical knowledge to become a successful Ayurvedic physician
  • Seminars and conferences are always useful for the enhancement of knowledge, sharing of views and clarification of the concepts. From the period of Charak, physicians of Ayurveda used to participate in such seminars. We do get certain reference of such types of seminars in the Charak Samhita. Here we can learn the ‘method of science’ as practised in Charak’s time.

Commentaries on Charak Samhita

Various authors have written commentaries on Charak Samhita (see table). The famous amongst them is one Ayurveda Deepika written by Chakrapani.

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